Kathleen L. Asay is published in short fiction and has written for arts magazines and a newspaper. Flint House is her first published novel. Learn more about Kathleen at her website.
Can you Define “Beautiful?”
In my first published novel, Flint House, a burnt-out journalist is drawn into the battle to save a broken-down boarding house in Sacramento from closing and the residents from being evicted. Among the tenants is a mysterious older woman known as the Princess whom they all want to believe can save the day.
When I was in my twenties, I worked for a while in an office in Los Angeles, and on my lunch breaks I often walked across the street to a bookstore. Though I worked as a bookkeeper, I was already a writer. I looked at the world as a writer, storing up images, scenes, voices, so when I noticed an older woman, a pretty woman, who did herself up as she might have done when she was younger, I became intrigued. Who was she, and who had she been? I took her image with me when we moved and vowed to give her a story one day. That story became Flint House many years later and in it she became a princess.
Would I have noticed her and taken those second and third looks if she had been plain, perhaps even awkward or comical in old fashioned makeup and yellow hair? Noticed, shaken my head and moved on is what I see myself doing. I do it every day. I cast aside the unremarkable—no story there. But she was striking, pretty, interesting. You could build a story around that, and I did. Then again, would anyone have believed she was a princess if she hadn’t been beautiful?
I’ve come to dislike the word “beautiful” as a description in writing, especially when it’s used as in a beautiful house or a beautiful woman. If that’s all I need to know, so be it, but if you want me to follow where you lead then tell me why; let me see the beauty first.
Here’s how I describe her in the book when Liz, the journalist, first meets her: “She was probably seventy . . .Lines were deep in her face and her hair was beginning to thin, but I could see traces of the woman’s younger self, one who’d had lushly expressive eyebrows, full cheeks and golden tresses. Her hair, pulled straight back from her face into a knot at the neck, was the vague shade of yellow you’d get if you rinsed white with “summer blonde.” The color was clearly artificial, like the sienna in her eyebrows and the bloom in her cheeks, and yet— Time stopped; time marched on. She had green eyes, a heart-shaped face, strong cheekbones. Once upon a time, she’d been a looker, no, more than a looker, a beauty. Even in Maisie’s shabby bedroom, you could see this and more: a level chin, imperious eyes, back held straight against her chair, she was as regal as a princess. Damn.”
What happens when a burnt-out journalist meets a house full of lost souls? Liz Cane has seen too many sob stories in her career with The Sacramentan to have much sympathy for the boarders in Flint House who face eviction after the owner of the house dies, literally at Liz's feet. But when she's drawn into the battle to save their home, she discovers the story isn't the one she expected, and family begins in the heart.